Both IEPs and 504 plans are mandated by federal law and the processes for reporting and resolving complaints about how the laws are implemented are specified in federal regulations. Thus, states and school districts have limited discretion in implementing processes for resolving complaints about the plans and procedures vary only slightly from state to state.
Federal regulations give parents who have a complaint about their child’s IEP or its implementation more than one path to resolve it. One is a quasi-judicial due process hearing, in which parents and the school district present evidence on the dispute to an impartial hearing officer. The hearing officer issues a decision, which can then be appealed by either party to state or federal court. The other is the less formal complaint resolution process in which, depending on the state, an employee of the state education agency or another entity, investigates a complaint and issues a decision. In Connecticut, as in most other states, such complaints must be filed with the state education agency. A few states require complaints to be decided by another entity, such as local school district, and then reviewed by the state.
Decisions are final and cannot be directly appealed to court. But parents may ask for a due process hearing on the same issues if they are not satisfied. Federal regulations also require states to implement mechanisms to help parents and school districts settle disputes, including resolution meetings and voluntary mediation. In addition to these required measures, Connecticut also offers parents and school districts the option of seeking an advisory opinion about their issues from an independent hearing officer before embarking on a due process hearing.
Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance. Unlike the special education law, the rehabilitation act makes the entity that receives the federal assistance responsible for establishing a mechanism for resolving disputes. The mechanism must meet federal requirements. Some states use their IDEA complaint resolution process to adjudicate § 504 plan complaints, which the federal law expressly permits. Connecticut is one of a minority of states that does not do so. Thus, Connecticut parents who have an issue with their child’s 504 plan must file their 504 plan complaints either with a local school district or directly with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
This case was not handled by our firm. However, if you have any questions regarding this case, or any education matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.